By Rory Weal – Senior Policy and Public Affairs Manager
Chancellor’s decision to uprate benefits and housing costs will ease some of the pressures driving people to food banks – but long-term action is needed.
Before the chancellor stood up yesterday to deliver his Autumn Statement, there had been much speculation that another disastrous squeeze on the real value of benefits was on the table. But after campaigning from a wide range of charities, including the Trussell Trust, the chancellor chose to uprate benefits by inflation, as well as significantly increase Local Housing Allowance which many people rely on to help pay their rent.
This is very welcome news, but it underlines the need to establish an essentials guarantee in the social security system, so decisions on uprating are based on evidence that reflects the realities of people’s lives, rather than having an annual debate shaped by the politics of the day.
By making our voices heard, together we eased some of the pressures which have been driving so many people into poverty and to the doors of food banks. We welcome these measures at a time when the stakes could not be higher. Our recent mid-year statistics showed a record 1.5 million food parcels were provided by food banks in the Trussell Trust network between April and September 2023.
While these measures are extremely welcome, we know that even with this boost Universal Credit will not meet the costs of the essentials. People on the lowest incomes are still facing significant challenges, with a rising tide of hunger and debt which has been pushing food banks to breaking point. Longer-term action is needed to ensure our social security system and wider support protects people from ever needing to use a food bank.
We welcome increased investment in employment support and talking therapies, but changes to the Work Capability Assessment risk significantly reducing incomes and increasing hardship among disabled people, damaging their health further and making it more difficult for them to find work.
Disabled people and those with long-term illnesses who make new claims for Universal Credit will find it harder to be assessed as having limited capacity for work or work-related activities. They will therefore lose £390 a month and be subject to a harsh conditionality and sanctions regime. The changes don’t appear to be taking effect until 2025 (after the next election) but if they continue as planned, the Office of Budget Responsibility estimates that it will mean 371,000 fewer people being protected from sanctions and receiving the higher level of benefits by 2028-29, but only 10,000 more people moving into work as a result of this.
There are already very high levels of severe hardship among disabled people – seven in 10 people referred to food banks are disabled. It is vitally important that the Government rethinks these proposals, or it risks pushing people deeper into hardship.
Finally, the debate over uprating in the run up to the Autumn Statement has shown once again why we need a long-term solution to guarantee that benefits will be set at levels which meet the real costs people face. Any UK Government has a moral duty to protect its citizens from severe hardship. To achieve this, the UK Government must embed an essentials guarantee into the social security system.
We look forward to continuing to work with Government and all political parties to build on today’s announcements with further action to protect people from severe hardship, and to achieve our vision where no one needs to use a food bank to get by.